If you play that game at Music-Map where you type in a band and all kinds of similar acts bubble up, you might be a little thrown by the search returns for singer and guitarist Leah Wellbaum’s band, Slothrust. There’s Annabel Alum and Great Grandpa hovering close by, and they certainly share similarities with Boston-bred, California-based Slothrust: All three have frontwomen belting out guitar-heavy tunes.
But it is strange that the database doesn’t also reach farther back for peers, since Slothrust also channel some of the early-’90s distaff alternative boom embodied by Liz Phair, PJ Harvey and Juliana Hatfield. Even considering the generational and gender spectrum, Wellbaum — who identifies as queer and gender fluid, and uses “she” and “they” — occupies that lane of the confessional singer-songwriter who also digs volume and distortion. And shredding. “There’s a culture where women haven’t been as encouraged to be loud and take up space,” she told Guitar World last year. “Guitar solos are the opposite of that.”
With Wellbaum playing a solo voice-and-guitar set at Bumblefest, fans might or might not hear solos, but they’ll get to experience Slothrust songs pared to their core. Across five Slothrust albums over the last decade, Wellbaum has conjured a melodically literary world mixing magical realism and vérité. This year’s release, “Parallel Timeline,” has some notably heavy, grungy production, so it will be fascinating to hear how those tracks resonate “unplugged.”
With Slothrust touring the UK as of press time, Wellbaum was unavailable to talk with PureHoney. But in a recent interview with GoPride Chicago she sounded confidently in her element even when not accompanied by a band. “I also play live for yoga meditation classes,” she said. Wellbaum added that she’s working out the contours of an album-length composition of improvised guitar over ambient soundscapes. “I want to make that record in front of an audience because improvisation is important to me,” she said. “In those settings, I am reading the room’s energy and playing based on that.”
Leah Wellbaum (Slothrust) plays Bumblefest Friday Sept. 2 in downtown West Palm Beach. bumblefest.com ~ David Rolland